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Tips for Planning a Successful Gap Year

I absolutely love the concept of a gap year. Though I didn’t take a gap year between high school and my undergraduate studies, I did have the opportunity to take a gap year before I started my doctoral studies. And, I am very grateful that I did. Taking time off provided me with the opportunity to think about and discover my true passion.

After I graduated from high school I went straight to university and then I started graduate school for my master’s degree once I completed my undergraduate studies. I changed my major several times throughout the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. I was a very focused student so I always got good grades, but I didn’t fully enjoy my studies because I was simply doing what I needed to do in order to pass my courses.

After completing my master’s degree my plan was to start my doctoral studies in the upcoming fall semester. However, I experienced some family issues that delayed my plans to start my doctorate degree at the conclusion of that summer. So, I decided to take a year off so that I could focus on my personal situation.

And I am very grateful that I did. After taking time off I had more time to self reflect and truly examine my career goals. Though I was working as a professor at the time I had never really thought about what direction I wanted my career to go in or how to achieve my long term career goals.

After taking a brief hiatus from my studies, I started my doctoral studies full force. I ended up changing my major after having the opportunity to travel to and live in Africa at the beginning of my gap year. I changed my major from information technology to public health and ended up completing my degree in four years.

When I re-started my studies I was truly focused on what I was learning. I no longer went through the motions just to get a good grade. I was wholeheartedly engaged in my educational experiences. I went over and above on almost every assignment because I wanted to know more about the subject that I was engaged in.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year(s) is when a student takes a period of time away from his or her studies with the intention to continue studies at a later time. Gap years are usually intentional and are often taken between the transition from high school to college. However, a student may end up taking a gap year for a number of reasons including health concerns, personal/family emergencies, funding issues, mandatory military service, etc. Likewise, a student can take a gap year(s) in between undergraduate and graduate studies or during any other interval of their educational journey.

What is a Successful Gap Year

I define a successful gap year(s) as time spent defining and refining one’s career goals and objectives for maximum effectiveness. This means that when an individual enters or re-enters college or university they are focused and are able to efficiently achieve their career goals. Efficient goal achievement ultimately means that the individual is able to finish college in a timely manner and acquire effective career skills without taking too many twists and turns along the way.

What You Should Do During a Gap Year?

In order to have a successful gap year it is important to plan and execute your plan of action properly. An intentional gap year should be about exploration and adventure on many levels. It should not be an afterthought or just another year of doing mundane things. So in order for your gap year to be successful you should do the following:

Set Goals

If you have already made up in your mind to take a gap year then you should set solid and realistic goals about what you wish to accomplish during this time. Don’t let life just happen. Determine your purpose for taking a gap year and build your goals around that mission.

For instance, if you plan to discover your true career passion, make plans to explore different career paths that interest you. This could be in the form of doing internships or apprenticeships, interviewing professionals working in fields that interest you, or simply reading books and articles and watching videos about the career field. If you have a list of 2-3 more potential careers make a plan for exploring each career field over a given period of time.

Even if your purpose is simply to take a break from the educational environment for a while, make plans for that as well. Loafing around on the sofa for a year is probably not going to be helpful for you when you return to your studies. In fact, being apathetic during this time will probably cause you to change your mind about your studies altogether. So your break can and should be filled with exploration even if you don’t want to focus on your career during your gap year.

Travel

Traveling has traditionally been at the cornerstone of gap year experiences. In fact, this is what the average person thinks of when they hear the phrase gap year experience. While travel is not a mandatory part of a gap year, it is probably one of the effective ways to have a successful gap year experience.

Travel is an educator in and of itself. There is something about exploring new cultures and meeting people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds that has the ability to change you at your core. Travel experiences help you grow at a much faster pace than you normally would in your day-to-day life.

Gap year travel experiences don’t have to involve extensive international trips to Africa, Asia, or Europe but such destinations can certainly help broaden your perspective in tremendous ways. You can have a successful gap year experience by traveling within your state or throughout the U.S. as there are plenty of culturally diverse experiences to be had right here in the U.S. So whatever size your budget or your courage, you should make plans to travel at some point during your gap year.

Journal

Take time to journal your gap year experiences throughout the year. You can maintain a written or video journal in which you catalog your experiences and check in with yourself. A year can go by quickly and if you are not careful you can easily forget about some of the more transformative parts of your journey.

You can set a journaling schedule to make this process easier and more intuitive. You can also strategically plan journal categories to help you keep your thoughts more organized. You can even mix and match the type of journaling that you engage in. For instance, writing tends to be a more intimate process that allows you think deeply. But it can also be tedious and time consuming especially when you have a lot of thoughts to catalog.

So you can also create vlogs of your journey. This may be done to record your private innermost thoughts about something or it could be done to capture integral parts of your career exploration or travel experiences. There is no need to publish your vlogs to an online video sharing platform like YouTube, you can simply keep them stored away for your own personal use.

Journaling helps you self-reflect. You will obviously be self reflecting in the moment that you record your thoughts or experiences, but journaling is also a vital part of long-term self reflection processes. For instance, you can read your journal or watch your vlogs at the conclusion of your gap year experience to get a better sense of how you have changed and who you have become. This information will be instrumental to you as you continue your academic studies.

Need more career guidance? Contact us so we can help you.

What are the Best Countries for Expats?

Best expat countries

The other day I came across a video about the best places to live, work, or retire abroad. While this isn’t the first time that I have seen these types of lists or compilations, this video really caught my attention. I immediately started to think “is there a such thing?”.

I know that best locations exist for individual expats or retirees. However, is there truly such a thing as a best expat country for the average person? I started watching the video to determine what criteria was used to rank the countries that were on this list. Within the first few seconds the narrator indicated that the list was derived from data collected from an expat survey that’s conducted annually. I only watched enough of the video thereafter to see the top 3 ranked countries.

Afterwards I thought how misleading and misinformed these types of lists can be for the average person who is considering moving abroad. There are so many factors involved in choosing the right or “best” expat location for each individual. What appeals to one person may be the complete opposite for the next person.

Though I don’t feel that any harm was meant by the title or information presented in the video, I do think that prospective expats should focus more on what matters to them. Expats may be able to find their ideal country by exploring such lists. However, these oftentimes very short lists are in no way representative of the global population.

This is why I typically steer away from presenting the “best” type of anything posts. I even steer clear of these types of conversations during my coaching sessions. Instead, I help my clients focus on what’s important to them as an expat. I first have them complete a comprehensive expat profile survey so that I can gain a better understanding of their overall personality. Then, I have a 60 minute meeting with them so that we can discuss their survey results in more depth. Finally, I customize a list of expat countries that I feel are suitable to their needs and desires.

It is important to keep in mind that we are all individuals with different personalities that can and do shape what best meets our needs. Therefore, it is necessary to approach your expat journey with these objectives in mind. You should effectively “know thyself”. Take some inventory of your own likes and dislikes, and needs and desires. Then, focus on the countries that readily offer the things that are conductive to your wants and desires.

Need more help planning your expat journey? Contact us so that we can get you on the right track.

6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Brokerage Firm

Choosing a Brokerage Firm

Choosing a brokerage firm can be daunting in today’s investment market. There are many options to consider when deciding which one is best for your investing needs. I often advise my financial coaching clients on several options that may be a good fit for them. However, this is because I have built a strong relationship with them. I understand their personalities, their needs and desires, and their goals and objectives.

I rarely ever give specific financial advice to the general public because there are many things to consider when it comes to your personal finances. Selecting a brokerage firm is both a science and an art. There are specific factors that usually impact everyone when it comes to choosing the best brokerage firm. However, this process is also very unique to each individual.

This is why I have put together a list of common factors that one should consider when deciding on a brokerage firm. So if you are in the midst of trying to decide which firm is best for your financial needs, here are some things to think about.

Accessibility

Historically, brokerage firms have operated out of brick and mortar buildings. They offered investors full service options inclusive of financial advisors and trade execution. Investors had somewhere to go when they had questions or concerns about current or future holdings.

Today, most of the long-standing traditional brokerage firms have both physical locations and robust online trading platforms. And they still offer a suite of services to their customers. They are great options for investors who want 5-star treatment but also desire the convenience of online trading.

A number of virtual brokerage firms have sprouted up over the past few decades or so. Online brokerage firms have changed the investing landscape in many ways. A number of them have 24/7 operating hours and they offer simple, self-directed trading options.

This has significantly expanded accessibility options for investors. So new investors who don’t need to access a live broker can easily open an account with an online brokerage firm. They can still speak with account managers and tech support over the phone, yet conveniently self-manage their portfolio online.

History and Reputation

Investing is a very sensitive matter as it deals with exchanging monetary funds in the virtual environment. The average person is typically concerned about where they park their hard-earned dollars, especially in today’s economy. This is why it is important to know the history and reputation of the brokerage firm that you select.

A number of brokerage firms have a strong, long-standing reputation in the financial market. This is vital to maintain sustainability in this sector. On the other hand, some firms are newer and haven’t built a solid history as reputable establishments. This doesn’t mean that the they don’t operate with integrity, however, this can be a concern for some investors.

Trade Commission Fees

While more brokerage firms are starting to offer commission-free services, a few of them still charge these types of fees. This means that investors are required to pay fees when they trade. This amount can be anywhere from $1-$50 or more, which gives investors reason to shop around. So understand how much it will cost you to trade when selecting a brokerage firm. No or low trade fees are more ideal for capitalizing on your investments.

Enjoy the security of traditional savings with the advantage of high interest rates and limited transactions. No fees. No minimum balance requirements. The Axos Bank High Yield Money Market Account means more money in your pocket.

Account and Trade Minimums

Brokerage firms vary in terms of account opening minimum deposits and trade minimums. Some firms don’t have minimum deposit amounts while others can require a minimum deposit of up to $30,000. Some firms have trade minimums on certain types of exchanges such as mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETF’s) while others don’t. It is important to keep this in mind when you determine which firm is the best one for your needs.

Education & Research Tools

Education and research tools may also be a consideration when selecting a brokerage firm. Some firms have very robust education platforms that allow them to deliver live webinars, consistent print materials, and extensive prospectus reports. These tools can be very useful for new investors who are learning about the ins and outs of the stock market.

Traditional firms with brick and mortar locations tend to have a comprehensive suite of educational services available to their clients. Conversely, online brokerage firms tend to be less equipped to provide such services. If educational tools are important to you, you should research which options are available through various brokerage firms.

Promotional Offers

One of the last things to consider is the availability of promotional offers. Such offers generally come in the form of cash or transfer bonuses, free securities, or free services for a limited period of time. Cash bonuses can range anywhere from $50 to more than $3000. Investors are generally required to deposit anywhere from $5000 to $1,000,000 to qualify for such offers. So they are definitely for serious investors who are able to make significant contributions to a new brokerage account.

Promotional offers are generally not important to new investors with less than $5000 in investment capital. However, it may be useful to research options that may be available to you if you are in the market to invest larger sums of money.

I don’t recommend choosing a brokerage firm solely based on promotional offers. You should definitely consider more important factors such as those mentioned above before thinking about promotional offers. Keep in mind that you will most likely have a long-standing relationship with the firm that you select. So you should consider how it meets your most important needs first. Promotional offers are just icing on the cake.

Enjoy the security and earning potential of a savings account while maintaining the flexibility to write checks with a rate of 1.00% APY on all balances equal to or greater than $25,000

Need more investing guidance? Contact us so that we can help you start building your wealth.

Should I Cut My Locs to Get a Job?

Locs and the Job Search

As a three-time loc wearer who recently cut my below-the-shoulder length locs in favor of an Afro, I have grappled with this question a number of times throughout my career. For me, my hair is more than something that sits on my head – it is statement of who I am. Yes, I have missed out on a few job opportunities because of my locs, but these situations did not deter my sense of self-determination none-the-less.

I know that I speak from a very privileged space as my educational background and experience have probably opened more doors for me than my hair has closed. Also, I worked in higher education when I first locked my hair. This is an occupational field that tends to embrace and promote culture and diversity more so than some other industries.

Likewise, I speak from a space of cultural-pride and strong familiar support. As an African American woman, I am very aware and proud of my cultural heritage. I also have very supportive immediate and extended family members who have always encouraged me throughout my natural hair and loc journey.

That being said, I know that everyone doesn’t have some of the same luxuries that I have had in terms of making a decision between my hairstyle and a prospective job. Conversely, I have heard many stories about individuals who had to cut or hide their locs in order to get and maintain employment. And I think that this is absolutely absurd and malicious on many levels.

But, the question is not about how I feel about the situation. The question is about what should be done when a job-seeker is presented with such a situation. And the answer is, “it depends”.

What Does Hair Mean to You?

Locs are generally ostracized in the workplace because they are deemed to be distracting. This is similar to someone wearing blue, purple, or orange hair color. Though, I disagree with this sentiment because locs are natural, cultural, and in some cases spiritual unlike these eccentric hair colors. Nevertheless if you conform to this viewpoint, you might want to consider cutting your locs in order to find gainful employment.

While many culturally-aware loc and other natural hair wearers tend to want to fight the cause, we have to keep in mind that locs are just a hairstyle for some people. Every loc-wearer of African heritage doesn’t have the same level of cultural or spiritual connection to their hair. In fact, a number of people opt for temporary loc extensions in order to experiment with the style rather than as a badge of cultural pride. In which case cutting your locs in exchange for gainful employment is okay once you are not violating your own principles.

On the other hand, if you value your locs as a significant part of your culture and heritage then you may want to continue to cultivate them. Not only will you be able to maintain your sense of cultural pride, you will also be able to maintain your dignity and integrity. If you opt to keep your hair in favor of oppressive and unjust employment practices, you win the game for both you and the next generation.

That is definitely what I choose do for the last 14 years of my career. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it. I am actually grateful for any job opportunities that I missed out on because of my locs. Because I feel as though I would have been miserable in such work spaces. I probably would have been perpetually exhausted trying to always prove my value and worth because of my hair and my heritage.

Likewise, I held onto my locs a little longer than I planned to because I wanted to cut them off about 4 months before I did this past April. When I felt that it was time to cut my locs off in January, the case about the student who was being forced to cut his locs in order to graduate from high school was brought to the forefront. At that point I decided to keep my locs a little longer as a statement of solidarity for him and other youths who may be experiencing similar situations.

Dreadlocks and the workforce

I wanted other young people to see that you can wear locs and be professional at the same time. Though I ultimately decided to cut my locs this past March for personal reasons, I still stand by my principles on matters such as this.

What are Your Economic Options?

One thing that you can always accuse me of being is a realist. While I have many ideas about the way the world should be, I also know that the majority of us live in a world that requires us to be gainfully employed in order to survive. Except when it comes to occupations that specifically employ or emphasize such principles, cultural pride and spirituality don’t usually pay the bills.

So sometimes you have to make hard decisions when it comes to your principles and values versus your livelihood. That’s not to say that you must compromise in order to live a fruitful, prosperous life because there are many options when it comes to economic stability.

Instead of a searching for integrity-compromising employment opportunities, you can start your own business. I know a number of loc wearers who did just that. They decided to start their own business rather than cut their hair to get a job. Most of them ended up being appreciative of lost employment opportunities because those situations forced them to find a more viable solution.

Another alternative is to seek employment in an industry or company that embraces cultural diversity. While more and more corporations are promoting cultural diversity within the workplace, some industries consistently embrace this concept on a broad scale.

Dreadlocks and the workforce

Here is a list of professions that may be more conducive for loc wearers:

  • Artistry
  • Writers
  • Fashion
  • Athletics
  • Education
  • Culinary art
  • Entertainment
  • Performing arts

As you see, loc wearers have options when it comes to their hair versus gainful employment. There is rarely a time when cutting your hair is the only choice that you have. Making the decision to keep your locs may require you to make some hard decisions like starting your own business or changing careers. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to sacrifice your hair for finances.

Need additional career coaching assistance? Contact us so that we can help you.

5 Tips for Overcoming Fears About Investing in the Stock Market

Overcoming Investing Fears

The number one source of opposition that I get from my financial coaching clients is their fear of investing in the stock market. Once I help them develop strategies to pay off their debt so that they can begin building wealth they usually want to stop at simply saving money. While I always recommend having liquid emergency funds in store, this is not a sufficient tool for building true, sustainable wealth.

In order to build wealth quickly and efficiently it is important to invest. There are many ways to invest your money to make it grow fast. You can invest in real estate, a business, the stock market, etc. But one of the quickest and easiest ways to start investing is through the stock market, which many people are afraid of. This is especially the case for individuals who have just finished paying off debt and are anxious to set aside extra cash for the future.

And this is completely understandable. I once had these same objectives when I was fresh out of debt, however, I quickly realized the value of investing my money after taking a few steps to overcome my fears. Since that point I have found other strategies that have helped my clients overcome their fears of investing and start rewarding journeys to building wealth.

Enjoy the security of traditional savings with the advantage of high interest rates and limited transactions. No fees. No minimum balance requirements. The Axos Bank High Yield Money Market Account means more money in your pocket.

Educate Yourself About the Stock Market

Education is your first line of defense for making sound decisions in almost any endeavor. Investing is no different. The more you know about the stock market and how it works, the better equipped you will be for selecting sound investment options. Proper education can easily dissipate your fears about investing in the stock market.

When I first decided to invest I spent about a year figuring out how the stock market works. These are some of the things that I did to educate myself about the stock market:

  • Signed up for a paid online investing class
  • Frequently watched the Bloomberg channel
  • Watched YouTube videos about investing
  • Read books and online articles about investing

It took me about a year to start investing because I wanted to pay off my debt before I got started. At the time I had quite a bit of revolving debt that I wanted to pay off. I knew that I wanted to invest once all my debt was cleared so I started my educational journey very early.

It doesn’t take this long to become adequately educated about the stock market though. With the right tools and resources and adequate time you can easily learn investing basics within a month or so. There are plenty of free and paid investing resources available in-person and online. You can easily find tools to suit your personality, budget, needs, and desires. So one of the first steps you should take to ease your fears about investing is to educate yourself about the process.

Use Stock Market Simulators

When I first started investing stock market simulators were not available to me. Or at least I was not aware of them. However, these handy tools have grown in popularity over the years. They are basically a way of allowing you to invest virtual or “play money” in the stock market to see how your investments can grow over time. These tools are a great risk-free way of getting acclimated to the stock market without taking major risks with your money.

Open and Fund a Brokerage Account

This is one of the first measures that I took when I decided to actually start investing in the stock market. I opened a brokerage account with a $100 deposit. I didn’t know what to invest in at first so I started doing a lot of research while my money sat in the account for 4 months. The firm that I used automatically puts deposits in an interest-bearing money market settlement fund. So my money was growing at about .25% each month as it sat in the account.

I received monthly email statements that constantly reminded me about the account. This encouraged me to keep doing my research so that I could figure out where to invest this money. Once I finally decided which investment products where right for me I added $900 to my settlement fund and began trading. Thereafter, I became hooked on the stock market once I realized its wealth building potential.

Overcoming investment fears

The key to this strategy is to add funds to your brokerage account. Many brokerage firms allow you to open an account with no initial deposit. If you do this then you won’t be as compelled to do something with your money. So as soon as you open your brokerage account fund it with an amount of money that is comfortable for you. You can start trading whenever you are ready.

In addition to kick-starting your investing ambitions, opening a brokerage account can give you access to valuable investing educational resources. Many brokerage firms provide a number of useful educational tools such as articles, videos, webinars, etc. to their clients. As such, you can utilize these to grow in your knowledge and awareness of salient investment strategies.

Choose Low Risk Options

Another tool that you can use to ease your fears about investing is to put your money in low risk investment vehicles that guarantee a return on investment. Certain investment options such as certificates of deposit (CD’s), money market accounts, and bonds allow you to safely start your investment journey.

You are guaranteed to get your initial investment back with these types of accounts in addition to some interest. However, the interest payout is generally quite lower than what you could get when investing in stocks. Low risk investing options typically result in lower dividends or payouts. But this is still a great way to get your feet wet and to diversify your portfolio.

The Money Market account is designed for members who want the security of a traditional savings account, but with higher returns. Plus, with a suite of complimentary digital banking tools, you can access your funds wherever you are.

Start Small

Another strategy for decreasing your angst about investing in the stock market is to start small. You do not have to pour your life savings in the stock market. In fact, this is a bad idea even if you are an active investor. You should always leave cash in an emergency or reserve fund.

Many online brokerage firms allow you to invest as little as the per share cost of a stock or exchange traded fund (ETF). This could literally be as low as $2. Like with other low risk investment options, the payout is typically lower with smaller investments. But the goal is to ease your way into the stock market – you can always add to your portfolio as you become more comfortable with investing.

Need more helpful ideas on investing in the stock market? Contact us and we will gladly help you develop a sound investment strategy.

Enjoy the security and earning potential of a savings account while maintaining the flexibility to write checks with a rate of 1.00% APY on all balances equal to or greater than $25,000

Why Africa is an Entrepreneur’s Paradise

Entrepreneurship in Africa
Jambiani Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania

The African continent has been getting a lot of attention lately by entrepreneurs. Many economic forecasters has pivoted the continent as the new frontier for growth in almost every sector imaginable. While the continent still has many challenges, it is growing and expanding in many ways. A number of African leaders are starting to implement polices that make their nations attractive places to do business.

Market Potential

Africa is probably home to the most fertile business prospects on the planet. The continent is trying to catch up with its more developed counterparts. Yet, many African nations still lag behind in infrastructure development. This makes the continent a goldmine for entrepreneurs who are willing and ready to contribute to the dynamic growth of the continent.

Almost every major market has untapped potential on the continent. Only a few business sectors are saturated in Africa. This also makes the continent prime real estate to sell quality goods and services. So for almost any business endeavor that you can think of you can probably find a dozen or more countries in Africa to do business in. Most African nations have fertile ground for sewing the seeds of entrepreneurship.

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Low Start-Up and Overhead Costs

The cost of living in most African countries is much less expensive than the average developed nation. This means that it will cost much less to establish and maintain most businesses on the continent. It is fairly easy and inexpensive to lease or own property in many African nations. Salary and wages are also much less than in most developed regions of the world. This means that financing your entrepreneurship dream on the continent can easily become a reality.

Burgeoning Middle Class

Africa’s middle class is growing at a fast rate. On the other hand the middle class in most developing countries is experiencing slow growth or disappearing altogether. Africa’s middle class represents the rise in professionals and entrepreneurs that are taking the continent by storm. A number of African college graduates who left their home in search of a better life are migrating back home. Many others send money to their loved ones in an effort to help restore the economy of their home lands.

As this trend continues, more businesses now enjoy the ability to cater to more discerning customers on the motherland. Middle class and affluent Africans desire luxury goods and high quality services. This dynamic has created a growing demand for new businesses, especially those that are designed to serve westernized tastes. So now is the time to establish or relocate your start-up or franchise to the continent. Doing so can help you can gain more exposure and realize greater capital potential.

Social Transformation

As I write this post, many African nations are undergoing drastic social transformation. The youths in these nations are not satisfied with business as usual. They are frustrated with the corruption and infrastructure issues that have plagued Africa for so long. And they are doing something about it.

The youths in a number of African nations are beginning to demonstrate against their governmental representatives. They are also beginning to hold these politicians accountable for their actions. They are demanding a better socio-political structure and the entire globe is starting to take note.

Social transformation in Africa

Thousands of people march to Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, to demand that the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, step down immediately because of his corrupt rule on April 7, 2017.

As governmental leaders start to rise to the occasion many of these nations are subsequently experiencing significant socioeconomic development. So if you decide to transition to this entrepreneur’s playground you can easily realize your vision. You can also simultaneously help many Africans realize the social change that they need.

Need more help developing your business plan for African entrepreneurship? Contact us and we will gladly assist you.

10 Things to Consider When Choosing an Expat Country

Choosing an Expat Country

There are many things to think about when choosing an expat country. After living as an expat in three different countries there are many things that I wish I had considered before moving abroad. Although I tremendously enjoyed my experiences, I think very differently about moving abroad at this stage in my life. In fact, I have been diligently contemplating my next move overseas for quite some time now. Though I don’t plan to move right away I have started planning key aspects of my next expat journey.

Here are some things that I consider important when choosing an expat country:

Cost of Living

This is always at the top of my list. I like to live a comfortable life no matter where I am. So I choose destinations that will afford me the comfort level that I desire. It is important for me to move somewhere with a reasonable cost of living. I like having enough disposable income so that I can enjoy my leisure time.

Of course this is not the case for everybody. For some, the basics is more than enough as long as they are in their dream destination. And this is perfectly fine. But either way, cost of living is a very important factor in choosing an expat location. Cost of living impacts your overall quality of life in any given location. So you need to consider your budget and your living situation before heading to you expat destination.

As I have shared before in other posts, I lived in the Middle East for most of my time abroad. The cost of living in this part of the world is similar to that of areas like New York, California, and Hawaii. However, all of my accommodation and transportation expenses were covered by my employer. Thus, the cost of living did not adversely impact my standard of living. Therefore, I had more disposable income to enjoy my preferred standard of living.

Healthcare

If you have health issues that require special treatment or services you need to ensure that this is available in your desired expat country. If you are otherwise healthy and generally only need routine health screenings this concern is not as urgent. However, you should investigate the availability of preventative, acute, and emergency care services before you move abroad. Getting the right care when you need it can literally be a matter of life and death.

Health insurance is another factor, especially in high income countries where healthcare provision is absorbent. Employers generally cover such expenses for expats. However, you may need to supplement your policy so that you can access private care when needed.

Climate and Weather

Every time I think about this dynamic I recall a story about an African student who studied abroad in America. He was from West Africa where the climate is tropical and warm during most of the year. His study abroad trip was scheduled in December and his flight was set to arrive in Pennsylvania.

December is considered the dry season in his country of origin. The temperatures in that region are generally in the mid to high 70’s in December. So he packed his luggage and dressed accordingly. After arriving in Pennsylvania in shorts and a light jacket he encountered a very unpleasant surprise. He was cold, shivering, and did not have an appropriate change of clothes. Fortunately a stranger came to his rescue and gave him a jacket. Needless to say he learned a very important lesson that day.

Likewise, I tell this story so that prospective expats who have never traveled abroad can learn a valuable lesson. The climate and temperature is not the same all around the world. It is important to think about what type of weather you enjoy when choosing an expat country. You could be pleasantly surprised or deeply disappointed by the climate and weather in a given locale.

Religion

If you are religious you need to consider how you will practice your faith while living abroad. Some countries are more conducive to and/or tolerant of certain religious practices and belief systems than others. In general expat-heavy countries usually tolerate religious freedom among its expat population. But even in the most tolerant nations, there may not be many places for expats of diverse religions to worship.

Choosing the right expat country

For instance, the UAE is a Muslim nation full of mosques and other artifacts related to this religion. As an expat, you are free to adhere to any belief system as long as you don’t proselytize in the country. Even though people are free to practice whatever faith they believe in there are few places of worship dedicated to other faith systems such as Christianity or Hinduism. Usually practitioners of other belief systems congregate in malls, lounges, and other make-shift places of worship to conduct their religious services.

While you can practice your religion in some countries, you may not have easy access to a similar community of believers. Even more, it may be forbidden to practice your belief system in certain countries that don’t embrace religious tolerance. So you definitely need to do some research in this area if religion is important to you.

Entertainment

After the initial excitement of your move has worn off you are going to need a viable source of entertainment. Everyone is different so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. You may be fine with taking nature walks or going to the beach every weekend. Or, you may enjoy regular trips to the theater and performing arts shows. There are so many entertainment options that are suitable for different types of individuals.

So you need to think about what entertainment choices are important to you. You also need to research the types of entertainment that are available in the expat country. Depending on your purpose for moving abroad the availability of entertainment choices could make or break your expat experience.

Safety

This consideration if self-explanatory. Understanding safety elements in a given location is vital to your overall well-being. This is especially the case for solo female travelers. In general, international employers will ensure that their expat employees live and work in a safe area. However, they generally don’t control your comings and goings outside of work hours. Therefore, you need to be aware of the general dangers common in the locale.

Transportation

Transportation is a major factor when moving abroad. In some countries you won’t be able to buy, lease, rent, or drive a vehicle as a foreigner. In other areas public transportation may not be easily accessible so you. Either way you need to think about the cost and availability of transportation options when moving abroad.

During my various expat journeys my family and I had a driver everywhere we lived. However, we also had our own vehicle so I drove myself around on occasion. While I enjoyed having a driver I also like the freedom and independence that comes with the ability to drive.

Communication

Chances are when you first move abroad you are going to want to communicate with your loved ones back home. Unless you are using a free calling app your phone bill can get quite expensive. So you definitely need to factor in the cost of communicating with loved ones abroad.

While calling apps are viable options in some regions, they are not in other areas. Some countries block calling apps. Other countries have such poor internet connectivity that it is difficult to rely on calling apps.

Another important facet of international communication is time zone differences. Your family and friends may be 8 hours or more behind the time that you are on. This means that you will have to plan your phone calls very carefully.

Family

If you are moving with family members then you definitely need to consider their needs and desires when selecting an expat country. They may have preferences on the type of terrain, climate, weather, entertainment choices, etc. that they like as well. Choosing a destination that you all agree on will make the journey more enjoyable.

If you are traveling with children you need to plan for their education. You need to consider which options are available to them, especially in the early phases of the move. It is not uncommon for new expats families to have trouble getting their children enrolled in school at first. This is especially the case for those who arrive within a couple of weeks prior to the start of school. It can also be complicated for those who arrive in the middle of a school term.

Also if you are travelling with family you need to determine if your employer will pay for their relocation expenses. Some expat employers pay for round trip plane tickets for you and your family members to arrive in the country. They also give you annual round trip tickets (or cash in lieu) to travel back home every year. This is a great perk as it makes travel less expensive for your entire family.

On the other hand, there are some employers who only pay for employee travel. Even worse, some don’t reimburse for transportation to and from the country at all. This can make your journey a lot more expensive. So do your research to determine if moving to a specific country is a viable option for your family.

Proximity to Home

The last consideration that I want to share is the destination’s proximity to your home base. This may or may not present a problem for you. Some people desire to be closer to home so that they can have easier access to their sick or elderly loved ones. This way if they have to make an emergency trip it won’t take too long or be too costly. Other people want to be as far away from their home base as possible for a number of reasons.

Need more help planning your expat journey? Contact us so that we can assist you.

Is it Better to Save or Invest?

Save or invest

This is a question that I have been getting a lot lately. More and more people are concerned about storing away for the future since COVID-19 has ravaged the global economy. And rightfully so. We should always prepare for our financial future because we simply don’t know what tomorrow holds.

As such, saving and investing are both important pieces of the puzzle. Both are critical tools for building wealth and for securing one’s financial future. This is why I always advise my clients to do both whenever possible. This is because saving and investing are both important and one only outweighs the other in regards to purpose.

What this means is that your decision to save or invest your money should be determined by your overall goal. There are definitely times when it is better to save than to invest and vise versa. But, this is ultimately determined by your individual financial situation. Let’s take a look at a few situations in which one option may prove better over the other.

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Emergency Funds

In general, I recommend saving at least 3-6 months worth of emergency funds before you start investing. Emergency funds are the equivalent of all your essential living expenses. However, I recommend adding enough to cover non-essentials as well.

For example, if your living expenses typically add up to $3,000 per month then you should aim to save at least $9,000 in your emergency fund account. This is the minimum that you should store up – the more the better. Effectively you should strive to accumulate at least 6 months worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.

Emergency funds should be stored in a savings account because they are more liquid. This means you can easily access your funds in an urgent situation. Thus, you don’t have to depend on an upmarket to sell stock shares.

There are many options for storing money in savings accounts. Common savings options include regular savings, high yield savings, or money market accounts. I always recommend accounts with the best interest rates to my clients. This way your funds are earning money when they are dormant. They are also easily accessible to you when you need them.

Take your money further, faster. No monthly maintenance fees. No minimum balance requirements. Interest compounded daily. This is high-yield savings, evolved.

Major Purchases

If you are planning to make a major purchase, timing is very important in determining whether to save or invest. If you have less than a year to purchase the item, it may be better to save or purchase a certificate of deposit (CD). These are very low risk, highly liquid options.

Conversely, if you have more time such as three to five years, investing may be a wise choice. You can invest the funds for the purchase in a mixture of low and high risk funds. This way you can get the best return on your investment. You can easily and quickly compound your money and still have the financial resources necessary for your purchase.

Financial Independence and Retirement

If your goal is to achieve financial independence or plan for retirement, a mixture of saving and investing is usually better. If you have more than 10 years before you reach your goals, aggressive investing is usually more effective. The more time you have to reach either goal, the more opportunity you have to make your money work for you on a larger, more rapid scale.

Saving and Investing for Retirement

On the other hand, if you are closer to your financial independence or retirement goals you should definitely go a bit slower. You need to ensure that you will have the financial resources available to you once you leave the workforce.

In general, I recommend that individuals who are planning for financial independence or retirement to trade lower risk options. Additionally, they should save a greater proportion of their money. The last thing you want to do is to lose your money right before it’s time for you to retire or resign. This will only prolong your time in the workforce and possibility lead to mental and/or physical health complications.

Need more financial coaching advice? Contact us and we will gladly assist you.

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